Remote Participation

If the practice of remote participation has been authorized in a municipality, may an individual public body adopt a policy prohibiting or further restricting its use?

No.  Only the adopting authority specified in 940 CMR 29.10(2) may establish restrictions on the use of remote participation.  The adopting authority can authorize the practice for all public bodies within its jurisdiction but give all public bodies the opportunity to opt out of the practice, however.

What types of restrictions may an adopting authority place on remote participation?

An adopting authority, such as the Board of Selectmen in a town, may decide to adopt the practice of remote participation, but place restrictions on its use.  Just as the adoption of remote participation must apply to all public bodies within the adopting authority’s jurisdiction, however, any restriction on remote participation, other than on the amount or source of payment for any costs associated with the practice, must apply uniformly to all public bodies within the adopting authority’s jurisdiction.  Note:  A local commission on disability that has separately adopted remote participation may set restrictions on use by its members.

For instance, a Board of Selectmen may choose to adopt a policy saying that no member of any public body in the town may participate remotely in more than three meetings each year.  Or the Board may adopt a policy stating that a last minute lack of childcare shall be considered a personal emergency justifying remote participation under 940 CMR 29.10 (5)(c).  However, the Board may not authorize the practice but say that only the Board of Selectmen can utilize it.  The Board can say that funds for the purchase of necessary equipment will only be allocated for the Board’s use, though.

An adopting authority also may not adopt a policy that violates state or federal law.  Thus, it is not permissible for an adopting authority to say that no member may participate remotely due to personal disability or geographic distance, since these are allowable reasons for remote participation under the Attorney General’s regulations.  But the adopting authority can adopt a policy saying that any member wishing to participate remotely due to geographic distance must be a certain distance from the meeting location for his or her physical attendance to be considered unreasonably difficult.

If remote participation has been adopted, must a quorum of a public body be physically present at the meeting location?

Yes.  A quorum of a public body, including the person chairing the meeting, must be physically present at the meeting location.  The only exception to this general rule is for local commissions on disability (see below). 

May a local commission on disability use remote participation even if the practice has not been adopted by its municipal adopting authority?

Yes.  Local commissions on disability may decide by majority vote of the commissioners at a regular meeting to permit remote participation during a specific meeting or during all commission meetings.  Adoption by the municipal adopting authority (i.e. Board of Selectmen or Mayor) is not required. 

Must a quorum of a local commission on disability always be physically present at the meeting location?

No.  Effective July 1, 2015, if a local commission on disability has adopted remote participation, a quorum of the commission does not need to be present at the meeting location.  However, a local commission on disability must still provide a physical meeting location where interested members of the public may attend and hear the discussion by the body.  Additionally, the commission’s chair, or the person chairing the meeting in the chair’s absence, must be present at the meeting location.  This means that if the chair wishes to participate remotely, he or she may do so, but may not then chair the meeting.  Finally, note that while the law requires that only one member of a local commission on disability (the chair) be physically present at the meeting location, a quorum of the commission must still participate, remotely or in person, for a “meeting” to occur.